Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009 from the Ibbetson Street Press

( Original Ibbetson home at 33 Ibbetson Street-- Poets from the "City of Poets Anthology"--the first anthology Ibbetson Street Press published---2000)

The Ibbetson Street Press and the Ibbetson Street Journal have been around more than 10 years now. Back in 1998, while sharing bagels at the Breuger Bagels in Porter Square Cambridge, arts/editor Richard Wilhelm, and my wife poet Dianne Robitaille decided to start the Ibbetson Street Press. We started as only a magazine, but eventually started to publish books and chapbooks of poetry. Our first collections were authored by Don DiVecchio "Earth Song," "The Life of All Worlds," by Marc Widershien,among others. Now in 2009 we have published over 50 collections.

"Ibbetson Street" the magazine, has published folks like the late Sarah Hannah, Mark Doty, Afaa Michael Weaver, Diana Der- Hovanessian, Danielle Georges, Ed Sanders and others over the years. Our books, magazines, and poets have been featured in The Boston Globe, Small Press Review, Verse Daily, WGBH, WBZ(Radio), NPR (Writers Almanac), The Boston Herald, Mass Book Award, and many other places. Our books have been praised by Howard Zinn, sam Cornish, Victor Howes, Afaa Michael Weaver, Dzvinia Orlosky, Lyn Lifshin, Fred Marchant, Matha Collins, Kevin Bowen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other notables. Ibbetson books and magazines are subscribed to and or collected by such libraries as: Yeshiva University, Brown University, Yale University, Poet's House (NYC), University at Buffalo (SUNY),Harvard University, Stanford University, to name just a few. Ibbetson Street was represented on panels at workshops at the Cape Cod Writers Center, Mass. Poetry Festival, Endicott College, UMass Boston, and in April it will be part of a panel on Small Press Publishing at Harvard University. Because of the reputation of Ibbetson Street I was invited by the Israeli literary organization "Voices Israel" to lead workshops, and read from my work in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. ( Dec 2007) It is a pleasure to see Ibbetson Street listed in people's credits in many literary journals. Just the other day I saw it listed in the American Poetry Review, Bloomsbury Review, Poets Market and other publications.

Since 2001 we moved to 25 School St in Somerville, Mass. This has been an incredibly productive time for us. Thanks to our landlords Patricia Wild and David Myers, we have had a great place to live and write, and we thank our lucky stars we can live in such a creative place as Somerville, Mass. I must say, Somerville is a truly unique community, and the town has been very good to me and the press.

Our satellite organization the "Bagel Bards" has taken off, and we have established a community of writers, who range from the highly accomplished to the aspiring. There are so many people but I can't list them all--I thank all the Bagel Bards of course.... my long time friend and big brother Harris Gardner, our thick-skinned designer and editor Steve Glines, Robert K. Johnson--our retiring poetry editor, Linda and Ray Conte, website gurus, Tim Gager (co-founder of the Somerville News Writers Festival)," The Somerville News, Dorian Brooks ( our wonderful copyeditor and great poet), Sam Cornish, Richard Wilhelm, Gloria Mindock (fellow holy fool), Hugh Fox (My small press mentor and crazy and brilliant uncle!) Afaa Michael Weaver, Irene Koronas ( new poetry editor), and the list goes on...

Hey money is tight...I still have a great gig at McLean Hospital, but I don't take anything for granted these days. But I want to thank you all for these great years!

Monday, December 29, 2008

MASSBOOKS OF THE YEAR/POETRY: Recommended Reading from the 8th Annual Massachusetts Book Awards--2008

Recommended Reading from the 8th Annual Massachusetts Book Awards

The Award Books
Blackbird and Wolf by Henri Cole (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In these poems the writer strives to fuse the mind and the world,meditation and observation, until what is seen becomes what is felt.

If No Moon by Moira Linehan (Southern Illinois UP). This cohesive and brave collection of lyric poetry invites the reader toexplore the author's devotion to embracing life, grieving death, and pursuing creativity.

Gulf Music by Robert Pinsky (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky explores the intersections between individual, cultural, and political memory through the idiosyncratic notion of forgetfulness.

Highly Recommended

Lawrence City by Cesar Sanchez Beras (Wellington House Publishing). Set in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the collection explores town landmarks such as the Ayer Mill clock, City Hall, and Bellevue cemetery.

Inconsiderate Madness by Helen Marie Casey (Black Lawrence Press). Casey’s poems focus on Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged as a heretic in 17th century Massachusetts, and explore themes of belief, devotion, and the relationship between religion and
the state.

The Alchemy of Grief by Emily Ferrara (Bordighera Press). Ferrara incorporates love, loss, friendship, and transformation in poems about the pain and healing of a grieving mother.

Descartes’ Loneliness by Allen Grossman (New Directions). A combination of comedy and tragedy, Grossman’s collection of poetry about death dares to find humor and peace in loss.

Under Sleep by Daniel Hall (U of Chicago Press). Written over a ten year period as an elegy to Hall’s partner, Under Sleep utilizes a variety of poetic forms and styles to relate the effects of a loved one’s death on the living.

From Mist to Shadow by Robert K. Johnson (Ibbetson Street Press). In a poetic exploration of his own life, Johnson shares thoughts on love, literature, family, careers, and the characters who have colored his experiences.

Beloved Idea by Ann Killough (Alice James Books) Killough struggles to understand through metaphor-heavy verse her feelings toward her nation, evoking images from American religion, literature, and politics.

Easy to Keep, Hard to Keep In by David R. Surette (Koenisha Publications). Surette’s musical verses relate autobiographicalstories from his life in and around Boston.

The Situation by John Skoyles (Carnegie Mellon UP). Skoyles addresses the relationship between life and death while incorporating love, loss, and religion.

Saving the Lamb by B.G. Thurston (Finishing Line Press). These poems use images from nature to illustrate aspects of human life and of the life of the poet in particular.

Judges for the 8th MassBooks in Poetry were Claire Buck (Department of English, Wheaton College),Lawrence Raab (Department of English, Williams College) & Vanessa Vargas (Forbes Library, Northampton)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Called Richard Yates On The Phone: Musings From A Minor Poet

I Called Richard Yates On The Phone: Musings From A Minor Poet

By Doug Holder

An editor of a new literary magazine invited me to write an essay on the role of the “Post Modern” Poet. Well, I am not sure what “Post Modern” means, but I am a poet, however minor, and hell, for what it’s worth I should know what my own small role is and even the role of the much bigger fish in the poetry sea. But I think I want to expand that question. What is the role of the writer?

Now I am not known for the intellectual heft of my writing, be it community journalism or in my straightforward poetry. But I always have prided myself on tapping into my instincts, bringing my rather provincial personal experience to the universal. So as it happens I was thinking of the late novelist Richard Yates. I was reading Yates long before he became tremendously famous from the movie with Kate Winslet, etc… “Revolutionary Road.” (based on the novel of the same title.) That book for me, was electric, as thrilling as Kerouac’s “On the Road”, but in a very different way. Both Yates and Kerouac made me go out and hungrily acquire and read everything they ever penned. They made me think outside my self-made box, made me realize the power of language and literature, and they spurred me on to read even more. From Yates, I found other chroniclers of the broad lawns and narrow minds of the suburbs in post World War ll America, like John Cheever and John Updike. And later I moved through the whole canon of contemporary American authors like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, Henry Roth, to name a few.

Some people say a great poem can make you cut yourself while shaving, or make you miss your subway stop. Well, I say it makes you want to call the author on the phone.

You see, years ago I lived in a rooming house in the Back Bay of Boston, right near where Yates lived. I used to see him shamble down Mass. Ave. He looked like a homeless guy; stooped over, disheveled—a man in serious disrepair. I heard he drank at the “Crossroads’, a bar a few blocks from the hole-in-the-wall I lived in. I went in a few times but I missed him. I probably wouldn’t have had enough gumption to speak to him anyway. So I tried to call him on the phone several times, but I got no answer. But the point is that his writing affected me so much I wanted to call him; I wanted to connect, in a tangible way.

He was a man of my father’s generation. And since I am a Baby Boomer, and lived in the suburbs of New York City (as did the characters in Revolutionary Road), I knew the milieu he wrote about. My old man was a regular “Dashing Dan,” a guy who hopped the Long Island Railroad everyday to the advertising canyons of Madison Ave. So in this novel “Revolutionary Road” I had a window into the mind of a guy trapped in this “Rat Race.” I had lived on a “Revolutionary Road” in Rockville Center, NY with my parents’ requisite barbecues and the tipsy cocktail parties that my brother and I witnessed at the top of the living room stairs.

Here was a writer who was doing an exegesis of this milieu, the one I grew up in and did not question (at least when I was in the thick of it). This regimented existence, from birth, death and infinity, was tightly choreographed, and I thought that it was the only game in town.

And since, during this specific time, when I was living in the Back Bay, I happened to be a denizen of a down-at-the--heels rooming house—a bathroom down the hall affair, with other gone- to- seed residents, and playing at being an artist---well, I thought Yates really spoke to me.

I often read his books, and at times they left me reeling, even crying. Even though I never actually spoke to Yates, Yates spoke loudly to me. So what do I think is the role of the “Post Modern” Poet? I think I told you, pal.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Poet Hugh Fox: Is Still " Way, Way Off The Road"

Poet Hugh Fox: Way, Way Off The Road

In 2006 the Ibbetson Street Press published a controversial memoir of the small press: “Way, Way Off the Road” by the legendary poet, critic and translator Hugh Fox. The memoir was indeed controversial, and we got more than a few angry calls from small press figures of the 60’s and 70’s who felt Fox’s portrayal of them was less than accurate. The book covered Fox’s involvement with COSMEP, (the seminal small press organization,) his encounters with Charles Bukowski, Lyn Lifshin, Harry Smith, Len Fulton, AD Winans, and many of the other players in the small press movement. In a recent editorial in The Small Press Review Len Fulton wrote of Hugh Fox:

“For Hugh Fox the reach must be always for the grasp to be ever. He takes memory, mixes it with imagination, imagery, and an almost Teutonic lexical arsenal, and flings into the cosmos for the delectation of anyone who cares to listen.

There is enough Fox to go around, and little on this planet he has missed in his fifty-odd years of publishing. Richard Kostelanetz calls him “ the most distinguished man of “ alternative letters of our time….”

I do have limited editions of the memoir for sale… a collector’s item. The book retails at 15 dollars with four dollars for shipping and handling. (lbbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143) The book was designed and edited by Steve Glines.

Also for you Fox fans The World Audience Press has released a 550-page “Collected Poetry of Hugh Fox: 1996-2007”.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Street Press

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Unpredictability of Light, Poems by Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard

Marguerite Bouvard was just interviewed on Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer and has a new poetry collection out:

The Unpredictability of Light, Poems by Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard

Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard’s unpredictable journey begins in pre-Castro Cuba, wends its way into Provence and ends in a cathedral. Equally at home in yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the warm characters in the poems of The Unpredictability of Light illuminate their worlds in textured reds, yellows, and blues.

Sample Poems by Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard

“Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard’s nourishing poems and spirit are woven carefully and with insight into all aspects of the human journey. This generous poet, champion of our connectedness, helps make our ‘our present time more bearable’ and lifts us up. This is a wonderful book.”—Naomi Shihab Nye

"Full-hearted and rich in spiritual insight, Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard's poems combine the everyday world with the ineffable. She writes of loss and its aftermath in ways that surprise and heal, gently and insistently urging us to accept the challenge of being 'what you were meant to be.' I am grateful for the work she has produced in this new collection."—Floyd Skloot

Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard was for many years a professor of Political Science and director of poetry workshops at Regis College, and has been a writer in residence at the University of Maryland. She is multidisciplinary and has published 16 books, including 6 books of poetry, and numerous articles in the fields of Political Science, Psychology, Spirituality, Literature and Poetry. Both her poetry and essays have been widely anthologized. She has received fellowships at the Radcliffe Institute and the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and grants for her poetry from the Puffin and the Danforth foundations. She is a Resident Scholar at the Women Studies Research Center, Brandeis University.

Can be ordered at

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Barbara Helfgott Hyett: A Poetry Teacher that looks for work that sings!

Barbara Helfgott Hyett: A Poetry Teacher that looks for work that sings!

Barbara Helfgott Hyett, has published four collections of poetry, the most recent titled “Rift”, that is out from the University of Arkansas Press.” Poet-in-Residence at Emerson College (Boston) Richard Hoffman writes of her collection:

“ …Rift is a book born of acute psychic necessity and there is not a trifle or bauble in it. Faced with the annihilation, of the life she has known, Helfgott employs imagination, her learning and her poetic virtuosity to search among biblical and mythic narratives for a way forward.”

Hyett’s work has appeared in a slew of top shelf literary journals including: Hudson Review, Agni, Ploughshares, The Women’s Review of Books, and has taught at MIT, Harvard, and Boston University. She is the recipient of two Massachusetts Cultural Artist Fellowships, a fellowship in poetry at Yaddo, to name just a few honors. She founded the well-regarded poetry workshop “PoemWorks” some twenty-five years ago.

Doug Holder: Barbara you are a cofounder of the Writer’s Room in Boston, a sort of writing colony and collective in Boston. Can you describe the genesis of this?

Barbara Helfgott Hyett: The “Room” had begun when I came to it. There were three or four members when I first arrived. Someone had given us office space in the Transportation Building in Boston. Later we had to move and so we decided to become our own cooperative. This was the piece that I co-founded. I wrote my entire book on Christopher Columbus there. It took five years. I had a cubicle there where I would do my research. There were other writers like Ruth Butler (a cofounder) writing all these wonderful and important books. It was terrific, sitting in your own cubicle, with other writers. At the time I was reading all the Psalms and copying them out. I was getting in the mood for Christopher Columbus—he copied all the Psalms.

DH: Since 1984 you have directed a well-regarded workshop from your home in Brookline: POEMWORKS. There are many workshops in the area of all stripes, what’s unique about yours?

BH: We just had a press release because it is our 25th anniversary. Over 800 poets have come through the workshop. The 80 books that have come out of the workshop are remarkable.

I spent eight years in workshops learning how to be a writer. I used to call the poets who came to town, and ask if I could sit in their classes, or work with them. Denise Levertov, came to Tufts University in Somerville, Mass. I sent her my work and asked if I could sit in. She said that I shouldn’t sit in, I should lead workshops. And that’s how it began. I was a fulltime instructor at Boston University., and I left to teach my private workshop. My first workshop was with four people. Three were friends and one was a paid customer. We sat in my dining room… and it took off from there.

DH: I hear you really work your students.

BH: I think that’s what makes it unique. The emphasis in the class is to write well enough to be published. Four people in the workshop have won NEA awards, several are department heads at universities. This is how I earn my living now. I just built, quote unquote, a school out of my woodshed and a small sliver of my garage.

DH: In your collection “Rift” you deal with among other things, a painful divorce. In your poem “Fists”, there is almost naïve anger at your husband for his desertion, but also a faint hope for reconciliation. Was this ying and yang a consistent presence throughout this time?

BH: I had no idea that this divorce was coming. It was a 33-year marriage—to my high school sweetheart. We actually gave lectures on our marriage. I didn’t know what hit me. I have a poem that deals with how I learned the news.

DH: It’s been said that happiness does not provide good fodder for writing, but pain and conflict provides a rich mother lode.

BH: I think I have written some books that have happiness, I’m sure. In “Rift” I had a very different approach than the others.

This is my fifth book. Before this book I was very scholarly. I wrote a book about Columbus. I had to travel, research, and learn several languages. It took me five years. I also wrote a book about the Holocaust. I wrote about things I really didn’t have much understanding of.

The book “Rift” started when I got a call from the husband of my husband’s lover. Then I knew my marriage was over.

DH: Did your husband ever read the book?

BH: I don’t know if he ever read it. If he did he would be furious. We don’t speak.

DH Rift is a big departure from your other books, right?

BH: It is a departure. It is the most intimate of the books I’ve written. I stand behind various masks in other books.

DH: So in a way the divorce freed you up?

BH: It would either kill me or it wouldn’t. When I took that call I wrote notes…I took out my pad out and wrote.

DH: Does your teaching take away from your writing?

BH: Every minute, every second my teaching and writing are one.

DH: Could you tell me some of the poets you worked with and have published books?

BH: Pam Bernard, CD Collins, Celia Gilbert, to name just a few. Most everyone has come through the workshop at one time.

DH: What does a good poem make you do? Auden said it makes him cut himself while shaving. Another poet I know said it makes her miss her subway stop. How about you?

BH: It makes me sigh. I believe in truth and beauty. That’s what I look for. You know it when you see it. A poem could be a horrible piece of nothing, but there is one thing that sings. I am always digging for that.

For more information about Barbara and her workshops go to

Saturday, December 20, 2008


CHIRON REVIEW ISSUE #85 (522 E. South Ave. St. John KS 67576)


I have been trying to get a poem of mine accepted in the Chiron Review for the longest time. And there is good reason. This newsprint, tabloid journal of poetry, reviews, and interviews publishes work that is raw, exciting, rude and most importantly dangerous.
And of course this is what the Alternative Press is all about. No painfully polite or pleasant poem…this stuff live and breathes.

In the current issue I noticed a poem by my friend and fellow “Bagel Bard” member (a literary group in the Boston area) Zvi A. Sesling. Sesling’s poem “Grammar” bristles with humor: “the verb on your tongue is hard to swallow/ Adjectives in your ears are pleasant/Nouns in your eyes can be seen yards away/ Why must you eat conjunctions?

There is also an excellent piece by a fellow Somerville, Mass. resident Taylor Stoehr. Stoehr frequents the Sherman Café in Somerville, a favorite haunt of mine, so it is fun to see his article and translations in the issue. His essay deals with the lyric poetry of ancient Greece. Much of the poetry of that time (starting in the Seventh Century BCE), was destroyed by wars, fires, etc… Taylor Stoehr writes: “Some remnants of this vast treasure, still valuable as scrap papyrus, were used to wrap mummies instead off fish, and scholars today are still peeling shreds of verse off corpses…”

There is a revealing interview with AD Winans by Teri Reis Kennedy, in which Winans claims he doesn’t want to be labeled “ poe.t” Very interesting for a guy who produces a prolific amount of poetry, and has been in hundreds or perhaps thousand of small press literary magazines.

And I was pleased to see that Gloria Mindock’s poetry book “Blood Soaked Dresses” (Ibbetson Street) was reviewed by the master Charles Reis. Also Ed Galing’s “Confessions of a White Hat’ (Propaganda Press) was reviewed. I know the press’ founder Leah Angstman, and she is making a name for herself with her innovative publishing house based in Cambridge, Mass. She also is a barkeep at a bar named “Bukowski’s” I used to hit that place now and then.

And Charles Plymell, who I had the pleasure to interview in Configurations magazine, has a signature sacrilegious poem about religious Fundamentalism:

“In Kansas, the Fundamentalists
Taught me that God made man
In His own image and likeness.
I hope He likes His dirty asshole!”


Highly recommended

Friday, December 19, 2008

Alternating Current’s: Current Titles.

Alternating Current’s: Current Titles.

The local “Alternating Current´ press has two new poetry titles out by two well-known small press poets Timothy Gager and B.Z. Niditch.

Gager, the cofounder of the Somerville News Writers Festival, and the author of a number of poetry and fiction titles, has a new poetry collection released “ These Poems Are Not Pink Clouds.” Gager’s poetry has a signature mixture of humor, irony, and angst, tinged with a healthy dose of Bukowski-like fatalism. In his poem “Harvard Square” Gager pays homage to the bohemian square of the past, as opposed to the less romantic realities of the present day. Here Gager uses a peasant dress an old girlfriend wears to evoke a time and a place when his world was unjaded and fresh:

“ but when
I was sixteen
the used clothing store
existed right there
and a beaded dress
made you more
beautiful than
a haunted gypsy,
made me kiss you
when you exited
the changing room
deciding whether
I should either
live or die forever”

In B.Z. Niditch’s “Portraits” Niditch presents a series of short poems that capture, with an economy of words, a wide variety of writers and artists. “Bukowski” captures the down-at-the-heels, gone-to-seed; milieu the writer Charles Bukowski thrived and wrote in:

“ Wild wordsmith
in your great spaces
of L.A horror’s beauty
will always come back
in a drinking mirror…

effacing barracks of chaos—
along peppered rail yards
tearing up your
daybreak flesh.”

Both books are mini-digest sized, with compelling front cover artwork. These titles are welcome additions and editions to the growing Alternating Current list of publications.

To order these and other books go to:

Alternating Current
PO BOX 398058
Cambridge, Ma.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Doug Holder Poetry Workshop Jan 13 2009

( click on for contact info)


Denise Taylor ( Boston Globe West ) " him the pied piper of poets... with his fingers in so many poetry pots...whenever he spies talent he makes sure the voice is heard"

"Ease yourself into poetry and the poetry scene,
with small press poet, publisher,
and activist
Doug Holder"

Course ID:
Course Name: Poetry Writing & Publishing (Writing & Speaking)

Description: Doug Holder is a widely published poet and founder of the Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, which has produced books of poetry and journals since 1998. Join Doug as he demystifies the poetry writing and publishing process. We'll develop our poems in a supportive atmosphere, and provide tips for getting your work published. Many students in this class have gone on to publish their poetry in small literary magazines, and some have even started their own magazines. This course is perfect for the novice poet or the poet who has been away from the "scene" for a while. Please bring three poems to the first session (six copies of each). There will be a field trip to the Newton Free Library Poetry series where students will have a chance to read from their work.

Instructor: Douglas Holder
Time: 6:45pm to 8:45pm on Tuesday
Location: Newton SOUTH HS in Room 2102
Tuition: $116
No Class Dates: (No class Feb 17)
Classes are from 1/13/2009 to 2/24/2009. There will be 6 sessions.

The Small Press Review: From Print to Online

The November/Dec. 2008 is the last print issue of The Small Press Review. According to an announcement:

"Beginning with the Jan/Feb 2009 issue SPR will be an online magazine only. The online edition is a pdf and looks exactly like the print version of the magazine. It will be downloadable. If you are a subscriber to SPR you will have access to the magazine go to: Your password and username are on the mailing label of the print magazine, for instruction see p. 2 of SPR

Well, in these times of recession I can certainly understand why Len Fulton had decided to nix the print edition. In my neck of the woods, in Harvard Square, Cambridge, our much-loved news kiosk "Out of Town News" will be hitting the dust. Hudson News, the owners, reports that the demand is way down for physical newspapers, and it just isn't a viable business anymore. With me, my hands are still stained with ink, my eyes still search for the scream of the headlines on the newsstand each morning, and my cup of coffee needs the rag as much as the perfunctory bagel. I write for a community newspaper "The Somerville News," and although we have an online presence our main gig is still the printed page. Every Wednesday I go down to the office to pick up the new edition, my face becomes veiled by the front and back page. But for a new generation (I am 53) the internet is the first place they go. Not to mention the fact that the old gray lady (The New York Times) herself is a buck fifty for the daily and five bucks for the Sunday (in Boston). With the Globe, I spend nine bucks on newspapers every Sunday. But I am an addict, a newspaper is the monkey on my back, and welcome aboard!

In the final print edition of the Small Press Review, edited for the past 40 years by Len Fulton, we have an editorial by Fulton concerning small press icon Hugh Fox. Fox has a new book out by the World Audience Press " Collected Poetry by Hugh Fox 1966-2007." Fulton writes of Fox: "For Hugh Fox the reach must be always for the grasp to be ever. He takes memory, mixes it with imagination, imagery and an almost Teutonic lexical arsenal, and flings it into the cosmos for the delectation of anyone who cares to listen." I am proud to say that Steve Glines, myself and the Ibbetson Street Press published a controversial autobiography of the man: "Way, Way Off the Road" ( 2006) that Fulton mentions in his article.

Fulton also mentioned Poesy Magazine, that has an interview by Brian Morrisey ( Founder of Poesy) with Len Fulton, not to mention an interview by the Boston editor Doug Holder with Afaa Michael Weaver.

There is a great piece by Linda Lerner "A Flunky Blues Riff- On Hayden Carruth" about the late, and much celebrated poet. I just finished a memoir of Carruth's about his experience with James Laughlin, the founder of the "New Direstions" Press . Lerner, an accomplished poet, recounts a visit she had with Carruth. She writes;

" He cared for language, and struggled over the choice of words as a worker cares for his tools." I was surprised and pleased that Lerner got a note from Carruth about her book " A Koan for Samsara" ( Ibbetson Street Press 2003) that was published after her partner's death.

I was also glad to see that " Ten Songs from Bulgaria" was reviewed ( and on the front page). It was published by the Cervena Barva Press, Gloria Mindock's brainchild and fellow Somervillian.

It was also a pleasure to see that Bagel Bards 3, the anthology edited by Molly Lynn Watt, and designed by Steve Glines, was reviewed in this last issue. Mike Amado, Bagel Bard scribe, was the focus of the piece, the reviewer wrote: "Maybe Mike Amado's "Word Catcher Poem Four" a prose poem, suggests their tack:"

"The coming autumn was felt in the lazy morning wind, blowing summer afar, and in it's place, leaving conversations of foot fetishes, and broadsides that lack substance. Besides our dismantling of the Mr. Rogers enigma, we discussed how a poet should be a vessel for universal expression."

I am thankful that the Small Press Review is still around in any shape or form. They have and will provide a forum for the small press... and God knows we need it!

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/ Dec. 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On/Off The Beaten Path:The Road Poems by RD Armstrong

On/Off The Beaten Path:The Road Poems

by R.D. Armstrong

What is it that addicts us to the tease of R.D. Armstrong? Not knowing which ache of his existential wound he’ll exhibit next? Or where he’ll next bed his crotchety ass?
It’s certainly not the free punctuation, which except for a few grudging dots and dashes, you supply as you travel this long, looping paean to the road, mainly that coastal, crystal road which shoots along the Pacific from L.A. to Seattle .
No. For a punctuated map, you would do much better calling AAA. So it must be the landscape of R.D. Armstrong’s psyche and soma which so attracts us… or so repels us. Or is it both?
Know, before you leap, that R.D. Armstrong is the head honcho of The Lummox Press, based in L.A., and that, from this office, he warns subscribers that they might well become the “stepping stones” by which he “fords the stream of consciousness”. In other words, expect a visit from a guy who thinks best when he’s driving from place to place and needs a bed to bunk in.

And before you think yourself safely immune from the blandishments of any hustler who so ingenuously tells you he’s going to use you as a “stepping stone” , think again.
A large part of R.D. Armstrong’s loopy charm is that he can’t be bothered to hide his most nefarious intentions.
Hitch-Hiking readers, as well as hapless subscribers, know from the get-go, soon as they climb into his crotchety ’88 Nissan Sentra and seat themselves by the crotchety driver, what kind of spin they’re in for.
But, believe this reviewer, knowing R. D. is not enough. The dynamic in this danger is that R.D. knows you!
Most insidiously, he knows you speak “American”, and live the American dream. And thus formed he knows you hunger to converse with a speaker caught up in the same thundering contradictions and ephemeral illuminations as others so isolated and so joined.
By turns folksy and sly, encyclopedic and microscopic, genial and dyspeptic, social and
private. And with all these contradictions still talking to himself and piloting us to places we’ve

never seen before. At least not through his eyes.
And whether the fatal charm in that is the places or the perspectives, you, dear reader, must decide.
As befits a loner, albeit a choosey one, R. D. has an unsparingly sharp eye for herd behavior – especially of the consuming and colonizing variety.
As he approaches San Francisco, “SanFran” to him, R.D. notes ominously:

“Suddenly a bend reveals
a herd of suburbia as
frightening and sudden
as a herd of pastel buffalo sweeping
across the hills of South SanFran.

At least part of the frisson in this image lies in the melding of that iconic beast of freedom, the American Bison, into a herd of suburbanites. Both the buffalo who roamed the plains as well as the plains themselves have been transformed into “us” and our hive-like habitations.

This note of culpability will be sounded more than once in R.D.’s travels. Again, when he is spending his few pence for: “a loaf of bread some apples and some celery” he characterizes with biting wit the frenzy of the shoppers around him:
Shoppers around me seem almost
Giddy as if someone was handing out
Free samples of the blood of Kali –
One sip and you’re hooked one sip
And whatever the bossman tells
You to do you do it gladly because
Everyone wants to be a happy
Now, the reader can’t help noting that the narrator is himself a “getter and spender” and therefore himself one of the culpable actors in this drama. R.D. does drive a car, however venerable. Also, he buys and consumes supermarket fare - though it is simple fare and it is consumed “right out in the parking” lot.

There are many points in this odyssey when the reader might well wonder if the contradictions inherent in speaking “American” excuse the narrator from every
hypocrisy - and the passenger/reader from tagging along.
My fatal attraction resided, as far as it can be analyzed, in the charms of my driver’s prose/poetry joyride, and in the ritual penances, not unfeeling told, that R.D. performs along the way.
First, the charms are many. Could Oscar Wilde, himself, burdened with an English of formal, punctuated cadences, have gathered such ethereal images by America’s highways and byways as our strenuously homegrown poet? Listen:

“Lane 101 twists and turns along the
Western band of Puget Sound on a
Typical Washington morning globs of
Fog hang wet and low fishermen are
Merely silhouettes on mirrors no breath
Of wind except for motorhomes that whip by
On their way north…

Or, again, remembering another journey, in altogether different terrain:

“Perhaps it’s the way the desert
camouflages its constant state of movement –
hidden from our casual glimpses out
across the seemingly endless nothing –
that sets us up for the next surprise…..
A land devoid of definition
A blur of shapes
Of dirty / washed out colors.

And yet

a sudden splatter of
shatters a cool sky-
a cluster motion
that blinks on..
then off! Then on..
Then off!
It is only a flock

Of white birds flying
In a wide circle but
In this endless caged
Monotony of road noise

And white line fever
It is an aerial ballet

After a few of these passages of lyrical beauty and etched wit, I felt myself more indulgent of what before seemed posturing. Flawed he may be, but the man can fly - especially if irked by one of our national manias or tantalized by roadside beauty.
I even made my peace with his quirky punctuation, or lack therof, thinking, perhaps it’s a style tailor-made to a discourse less of logic than of percepts, of sudden moments of beauty or inanity, both of which snatched away my driver’s breath – and his punctuation.

But, perhaps the final fascination linking us together for the journey was not simply R.D.’s lively esthetic susceptibility nor his witty jibes at our more clownish mores, but my glimpsing, in this aging hippy, the somberly clothed profile of my long-suffering grandmother counting out the sorrows of her life on clicking rosary beads.
Yes, no matter how tonic the change of scenery, a sudden windfall of book sales, or the encounter of an old friend, or new one, well-met, R.D.’s sense of the tragic in life and in self is as a cup filled to the brim and often pressed to the lip.
Smack in the middle of a jam session among new friends on an early stop along his journey, a buoyant R.D. “noodling around on my Casio digital horn and tone generator” suddenly and surprisingly plucks a note of gratitude mixed with deep melancholy:

“I couldn’t know that the sadness
that fills each waking moment
could be so universally accepted
by people I never met.”

“Is this Laguna Beach, or “Dover Beach”?” the reader wonders, suddenly shifted from one time and place to another by these very unCalifornian sentiments.
But this is no misprint, and this journey, however “West-Coast” is no unalloyed joy-ride.
“Ah, Nissan, let us be true to one another!” could well be an up-dated duet sung by R.D. and Mathew Arnold, our mid- Victorian bard who heard so clearly the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the “Sea of Faith”.
But what drear note does our Californian bard hear? And once heard, can it ever be transcribed into our demotic lingo?
R. D. Armstrong will try manfully to sing this note; sometimes the note sneaks up on the singer and fills him with vatic urgency as on R.D.’s approach to his friend Todd Moore’s home:
“Six hours later
in the guest bed
making notes
I wonder what
I was worried about

No te preocupes, eh ?
(no worries)
Except for the accursed shadow
That dogs my every move.
Someday I’m gonna be found out.
Someday the phony-baloney from L.A.
Will be unmasked…”

Suddenly our grizzled hippy guide tooling along Western highways and byways become a flagellant in one of those medieval processions plucked from a Bergman epic.
What relieves and redeems this constant note of angst is its power to alter and even to occasionally transform the lyrical note that is the “tortured” R.D.’s other voice:

“A train moves across the
desert like Morse Code –
dots and dashes heading
south towards Amboy
all washed in muted hues of desert
grays and greens.

In this image, the train, journeying from here to there on a certain schedule but, in the larger scheme of things, an uncertain destination, becomes an analogue for R.D., himself a coded message as he journeys from here to there in this always remarkable, sometimes forgiving landscape.
More often, the spectacles that ease R.D. Armstrong’s existential ache are the ones that man has not yet made into his own imperfect image, the scenes between the towns where R.D. peddles books and meets his contributors and readers.
One such scene, as final and as summative as any of R.D’s endless questing, is a good note to leave on:

Climbing now, eyeball to eyeball
with red-tailed hawk
and sore-assed snowbirds
migrating north for the summer.
Five thousand feet of
blue sky spreading wide
like smile on mother of
prodigal son

then sudden puff of
single cotton-tail cloud
drifting lazy
across vast and holy blueness.

Are R.D.’s travails and triumphs, highs and lows, as substantive to you, the reader, as they are to him?
No need to decide soon. As long as there is gas to top up his tank, and juice in his publishing presses, R.D. Armstrong will be “On/Off the Beaten Path” – and ready to swing open his door for any hitchhiker/seeker
to hoist his thumb and his need into view.

J. C. Foritano/Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Mass.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cervena Barva Press:Poetry nominated for the 2008 Pushcart Prize

Cervena Barva Press

Poetry nominated for the 2008 Pushcart Prize

“Ways of Forgetting” by Flavia Cosma/from her full-length collection, The Season of Love.

(P. 40-41)

“Bird Scarer” by Glenn Sheldon/from his full-length collection, Bird Scarer (P. 21-22)

“Competence” by Kathleen Aguero/from her chapbook, Investigations: The Mystery of the Girl

Sleuth (P.18-19)

“Portrait of the Author as Six-Year-Old Yankee” by Catherine Sasanov/from her chapbook, Tara

(P. 14)

“Dear Regime” by Roger Sedarat/from his chapbook, From Tehran to Texas (P. 10)

“In the Twin Towers” by Doug Holder/from his full-length collection, The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel”

Books By Somerville Authors 2008

Books By Somerville Authors 2008

More than likely if you pass a few people in the street in Davis Square one of them will be a writer of some sort. So I decided to put out a call for books published by former or current Somerville residents in 2008. They appear in the order I received them:

“This is where you go when you are gone”, Tim Gager, cervena barva press, $7

Simple, yet explosive, this features much of Tim Gager's published poems from 2007.

These Poems are not Pink Fluffy Clouds, Tim Gager, Propaganda Press, $5.

This little square package of over thirty poems packs an emotional punch.

The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel by Doug Holder Cervena Barva Press $13

A collection of poetry by the arts/editor of The Somerville News. It was a pick of the month in The Small Press Review

Swimming Back Taylor Altman sunnyoutside $10

Set against the changing seasons in suburban America, the poems of Swimming Back chronicle a young woman’s struggle to make sense of her world after the early loss of her father. These poems, with their incredible range of human emotion, effectively transform grief into art.

Eden Waters HOME Anthology, edited by Anne Brudevold, and published by Eden Waters Press $16.50

Diverse takes on the theme of HOME by over three dozen poets and prose talents. Many well-known names from the Boston small press arena will be recognized, and new ones from around the country and abroad will be found. Copiously illustrated, the book is a delight to peruse. Available at local bookstores and online.

The Perfect Insult for Every Occasion: Lady Snark's Guide to Common Discourtesy
Adams Media $9.95

With a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other, fictional socialite Lady Arabella Snark (aka linguist A. C. Kemp) shows you how to use malicious language and stinging zingers to your advantage.

Way Opens: A Spiritual Journey by Patricia Wild. Published by Warwick House Publishers, Lynchburg, VA, 2008 $15.

Eight years ago, Patricia Wild asked, “What happened to the African Americans who desegregated my high school in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1962?” That question became a quest; Way Opens tracks her journey.

AWAKENINGS by Richard Wilhelm Ibbetson Street Press; $14.00

This collection of poems cycles through the seasons of the year as both the poet and the reader awaken to the magic of nature, art and the life cycle.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rebuilding the Pyramids (Poems of Healing in a Sick World) Mike Amado

Rebuilding the Pyramids
(Poems of Healing in a Sick World)
Mike Amado
Ibbetson Street Press 2008
ISBN 978-0-578-00041-1

Mike Amado lets the reader know this collection, in three parts: “dis-ease, coping, and healing,” is not, “a memoir, not meant to diagnose or treat.” The poet was diagnosed with “end stage kidney disease” at the age of thirteen. Within this volume of noble poems, Amado imparts part of his journey. For me, it was difficult to sit patiently with his book. The representations are close to the bone and in my difficulty I found, when I took a deep breath, the light of each verse came through.

“days after surgery i'm different
my johnny with diamond patterns
holds me like smoke”

All I might say about these poems would be platitudes. Who can review someone’s life, certainly not me. With that being said, I offer, from the coping section of Rebuilding the Pyramids:

“Doctor, Doctor

assist me in making up my mind.
go for the jugular?
or go for doctor assisted
the bullet and the pill can both
come to nothing if utilized improperly.
what are you implying, patient?
I’m saying: I knew a guy
given six months to live (fifteen years ago)
who had a brain stormed by tumors.
he was given a syringe then told,
“if it comes to this, you know what to do”…
silver pin sends murder bubble
to pop the balloon of life.
patient, are you sure you heard it right?
I did. but, I need advice.
no, not on which slow death to commit.
doctor, assist me
in choosing a full color brochure.
the one made of photo stock? with high-hair
centerfolds fully clothed playing
nurses, with men too late for beer ads,
too “unathletic” for sneaker selling
playing patients…..”

and then there is this poem from the "healing" section:

“ …the first emanation is light…”*
*paraphrase of paul foster case

“dialysis machine
pulses soft light
on walls of my bedroom,
drives fluid into my abdomen.
pain grips my body python-like.
I wonder:
are deities in the machine?
if so, when the day comes
we all need pacemakers
will heart then be
divine? maybe
people are machines who
need machines. but cells
are micro-Gods.
they thwart the darkness,
this harvest season
that promises burial.
cells secretly reinvent light.”

and the last poem in the book, full of relections:


“I contemplate my situation
by studying the refrigerator
light: when opened, it’s on
when closed, it’s off
just like my mind. I choose
this instant, this moment to be
utterly overt.
I contemplate
until my skin casts back a thousand
reflections: which one is me?
which one is you?
everyone who sees
themselves in you
are overcoats of chrome
polished by others envy.
a clouded mind is a soiled sky,
clouds make slivers of stars and
stagnant energy slows down the body
until all that’s left is malady…
and death.
one body contains my one brain
that isn’t one at all.
layers overlap on layers,
various facets flow like
color from a faucet, a liquid rubik’s cube.
many sides to one personality,
no need to match the cored squares.
(and no, right now I am not on acid).
consciousness provides
an escape-hatch
a latent capacity to walk out of this brain
like quitting a job.
so I shake up my head, pop the cork,
let my Higher Self mingle
with the Divine Everywhere
in a transcendental water tornado.
my psyche slips like a bendy straw
into that bottle that’s more
full than I am.
there is a part of the human vehicle
that dr. mechanics can’t remove,
that’s the part I live from.
the Creator doesn’t create imperfection,
perfection lives in acceptance.
we live in an altruistic universe-
that’s my alternate reality…..”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor
Ibbetson Street Press

Friday, December 12, 2008


PERSEPHONE LYN LIFSHIN ( Red Hen Press Los Angeles, CA 2009) $20.95

I remember interviewing Lyn Lifshin at a little bistro in the North End of Boston some years ago. Lifshin’s verbal output is as prolific as her poetry, and she is full of insights, and anecdotes from a rich writing life. And what is amazing about Lifshin is that in spite of her enormous productivity, the quality of her work rarely suffers.

In her latest collection: PERSEPHONE, Lifshin uses the mythic character of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, and kept in the underworld until her mother Demeter rescued her. Like Persephone Lifshin ‘s collection takes us from the darkness of despair to the light of love.

If you know me you know that I have softness for food poems. I’ve used food, such as a hotdog, to zero in on a dying uncle, or chicken fat to connect with my long deceased grandmother. Lifshin uses asparagus to evoke the last days of her terminally ill mother:

“ When I see the early green. I’m flung
back to that spring: the news of the
tumor, words: “inoperable,” “palliative”
a gun. Asparagus in stores, even as it
still snowed in Stowe in May, the dark
hanging in. It was almost the only thing
my mother would eat, cooked to
softness, salted, buttered…

“I just love the green,” she said.

And as only Lifshin can do so well, she uses her hair ( which she is generously endowed with) in the poem “ The Photographs with My Hair Up” as a symbol of freedom and constriction:

“I wanted my hair
left long and flow
ing, wild as dark
vines in midnight
water, not pinned
into something
neat and small,
subdued. When
the rabbi said hours
after the photo,
when I still could
have balked, run
free, “enjoy this
day, after this
it will be your
husband, kids,”
I felt the hairpins
turn to knives,
carve warnings
under the pale
lace, diamond

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review of Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston’s (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948, edited by Bill Nowlin

Review of Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston’s (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948, edited by Bill Nowlin, Rounder Books
by Luke Salisbury

Bill Nowlin, the editor of Rounder Books, has created a series of books on Boston baseball to delight the aficionado and confound those who don’t see salvation, poetry and infinity in everything to do with the Red Sox and Boston Braves. I confess I’m one of the nuts and know the subject well enough to enjoy it only when it is done well. Eureka! Here it is! Bill Nowlin, who I confess to knowing, and 40 members of the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), an organization whose vice president I once was, and Bill is now), have put together a fine collection of articles about each player on the 1948 Red Sox and Braves, as well as features on the broadcaster (There was only one, Jim Britt, who did both clubs), spring training, the opening days, the one game playoff (When the Red Sox lost to Lou Boudreau and the Cleveland Indians), the World Series when Cleveland’s tribe scalped ours, and even a simulation of an all-Hub World Series.

This is a labor of love. No one makes money, or much money, on highly Boston specific, intense baseball research. This kind of knowledge is not fodder for curses or personality-driven biographies. This is baseball—numbers, dates, anecdotes, who did what when—that create the images in baseball’s infinite parade. Each player article covers his whole career, not only the fateful summer of ’48. You may know the origins and fate of Ted Williams, Booby Doerr, Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, but what of Matt Batts, Windy McCall, Sibby Sisti, Wally Moses and Chuck Stobbs (Whose father, it turns out, played for a professional team call the Detroit Tigers in 1921)? This book provides photos and as many facts as any nut wants to know.

The last remaining controversy of the ’48 season is Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy’s decision to pitch, Denny Galehouse, his fifth best starter in the playoff game. The closest explanation we are likely to get is in Glenn Stout’s excellent piece on Galehouse.

The information in this finely produced book is the very fabric of baseball memory. If you want to see what scratching the surface of “knowing everything about baseball” might look like, look here. Once you own this Rounder book, you may want the others.

* Luke Salisbury is the author of a number of fiction titles including “The Answer is Baseball” (Time Books, 1989), “The Cleveland Indian” (Smith, 1992) and his novel about the great filmmaker D.W. Griffith “Hollywood and Sunset” (2007). His writing has appeared in such publications as The Boston Globe, Ploughshares, Cooperstown Review, Pulp-smith and others. Salisbury received his M.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University and lives in Chelsea with his wife Barbara. He is a member in good standing of the "Bagel Bards."

SARASOTA VII by Lo Galluccio

Lo Galluccio
Cervena Barva Press
ISBN 978-0-615-26369-4
2008 $12.00

“the point is those of us who lose a reflection of ourselves
in childhood have two lives.”

by the sixth page of Sarasota VII, I was completely engrossed
by the writing, the story. this book identifies a universal struggle to love and be loved

“participating somehow in the darkness that scored against us, we owe something to evil in being reborn as we are: stranger, darker, with a craving for bright lights and blood. the mania, some mania, of death. isn’t greed at life a kind of death?”

in reading Sarasota VII I found myself trying to slow down, to be careful in my interpretations of what is being written. each sentence relates to the next, each vignette relates to the next, a going forward and an ability to trace back the myths, truths that impact the fullness of what Lo Galluccio brilliantly puts forth, makes visible.

“isn’t the real trick to disappear while remaining visible?” as I turn each page I think of how much courage it takes to write and not only write about ordinary circumstances but write as Lo Galluccio writes. the reader knows this is not just “another book,” this is the book to read and glean what it means to be a writer, to bare with the process, the uncovering, laying naked, page after page. I know I’ve used the word write, writer, more times than may be necessary, but this is what one of my teachers taught me, it takes courage to write.


how does it intersect with place? when it hooks
us, into whose bucket do we go? are we thrown
back into another ocean until another love,
another death, another life catches us again?”

there are 29 numbered segments in the first part of the book. the numbers appear important in the space allotted to them and I agree, their presence lends to the whole, “a madness whose madness sprang from a penny.” and the relationship of the numbers to what is being said is important. in part II the same space and attention is paid to alphabetizing the strophes. then nearing the end of the book, in lower case, aa: to hh: leaves the reader with the actuality of time, space, a muse of sorts, an anticipation, the finality


I’ve told you almost nothing specific or real about anything. isn’t that the charge? have I described one scene you could follow or trust? am I circling still? what, after all, happens to swirling masses, but they’re swallowed by something that’s marshaled the terrible force of its own gravity, its own substance? even if that substance is a trick. it’s awful to belong to the tribe of miracle seekers.”

Galluccio will leave you with reason, with the power of words, with all
it takes to place your trust in the story. Sarasota VII will be read many times and then after leaving it for awhile you will pick it up again.

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor Ibbetson Street Press
Poetry Editor Wilderness House Literary Review

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some pictures from The Somerville News Writers Festival. ( compliments Timothy Gager)

* These pictures were taken at "Sagra" during the reception before the main reading.

( Left: Doug Holder/ Right: Marty Beckerman)

(Dan Tobin---- Laura Cherry)

(From R to L: unknown, Kitty Glines, Elizabeth Glines, AC KEMP)

( George Hassett--front, Afaa Michael Weaver--Back)

With three poems you get egg roll: Peter Payack's Poetry Fortune Cookie Project.

I got a call from Cambridge Populist Poet Peter Payack. He asked me to contribute a poem to his Poetry Fortune Cookie Project. Interesting concept. Payack is contacting select poets outside of Cambridge now, he tells me. Here is a description of the project:

Poetry Cookies

Looking for a one-of-a-kind, made in Cambridge holiday gift and treat? Peter Payack has "cooked up" poetry fortune cookies. Packaged in a Chinese take-out box, are 10 fortune cookies, containing "epigrammatic micro poems" by notable Cambridge poets including Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate; Sam Cornish, Boston Poet Laureate; Diana Der-Hovanessian, New England Poetry Club president; and Peter Payack, in addition to many other contributors including the Cambridge Haggerty School 6th Grade. These poems will be included in the forthcoming Cambridge Community Poem. Poetry Cookie Boxes ($6 per box of 10 cookies) are available at Grolier Poetry Book Shop (6 Plympton St., Cambridge) and at the Cambridge Arts Council. For more information, please contact the Cambridge Arts Council at 617-349-4380.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Doug Holder to be presented Outstanding Excellence Award at Somerville Community Access TV

( Doug Holder--with beard)

For about six years now I have been interviewing poets and writers on my Somerville Community Access TV show "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer." I have had the privilege of speaking with such folks as Gary Metras of the Adastra Press, Pushcart Prize winning poet Afaa Michael Weaver, mystery novelist Hallie Ephron and Donald Davidoff, artist and activist Sidewalk Sam, Diana Der-Hovanessian ( New England Poetry Club President),Louisa Solano (Former owner Grolier Poetry Book Shop ), Ifeanyi Menkiti ( Poet, Wellesley Professor, new owner of the Grolier), Jack Powers (Founder of Stone Soup Poets), Steve Cramer (Director of Low Residency MFA Lesley University), Richard Cambridge ( Poets Theatre-- Club Passim), Martha Collins (Poet,Founder of U/Mass Creative Writing Dept.), Tino Villanueva (American Book Award Winner), John Amen (Founder of Pedestal Magazine), Sam Cornish (Boston Poet Laureate) and many others...

Many of these interviews have appeared in my column for The Somerville News: "Off the Shelf." A select group of these interviews will appear in a collection to be released by the Ibbetson Street Press in the late winter of 2009: "From the Paris of New England: Interviews with Poets and Writers." The introduction was written by Michael Basinski, PhD, the curator of the Rare Books and Poetry Archive at the University of Buffalo, in New York, who I have known for many years.

So I was pleased when Wendy Blom, the director of Somerville Community Access TV, told me SCAT was going to give me the first annual "OUTSTANDING EXCELLENCE AWARD."
Woody Allen once said " 95% of life is just showing up," and the award is partly due to my longevity (not my 53 years--the show's silly!). But Blom also said it was due to the top notch guests, interviewing skills, and publicity for the show and in turn SCAT.

The reception (with great international fare from Union Square) will be Jan 22, 2009 at 8PM and can be viewed on SCAT Channel 3. The award ceremeony will be hosted by Somerville News columnist Jimmy Del Ponte. There will be a raffle, a Best of 2008 Producers' Award, and a sort of State of the SCAT report from the executive director.

Wendy Blom said this "Outstanding Excellence Award" is a first, and may or may not be permanent. Thanks to SCAT for this honor and the opportunities they provide for me and the community-at-large!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Flowering Weeds by Robert K. Johnson

Flowering Weeds

by Robert K. Johnson

Cervena Barva Press, W. Somerville, MA

Copyright © 2008 by Robert K. Johnson

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

The Shakers gave us a song, “Simple Things.” Robert K. Johnson, a retired professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, MA, and submissions editor of Ibbetson Street Magazine gives us a chapbook of deceptively simple poems. Johnson is an astute observer of people and situations. He also gives them simple titles: “Listening To Three Women At The Next Table,” “To The Person Who Phones Me Every Morning But Never Speaks.” Don’t think those are simple titles, how about: “At The Pond,” “Turning Twelve” or “To Be Sixteen.” Even simpler are “Older” and “Karen.”

These poems and seventeen more are easy to read, pleasing, and will make you think. Take “Turning Twelve”:

Her legs so much of all of her

she seems too tall for her body;

her chest with no hint yet of breasts;

her arms often just in her way;

her hair, though washed and combed,

still dull as this term’s science class;

her eyes aware her classmates’ glances

measure her up and down:

she has no idea how brave she is.

Zvi Sesling is a regular reviewer for the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. His own poetry has appeared widelt in the small press.

It is one to think about. Remember when you were twelve? Boy or girl, you had to walk into that class and meet the looks of others and you wondered what they were thinking of you. Or was that smile really a smirk. And what does hair have to do with a science class. Johnson has his view, what’s yours?

This, of course, is not Johnson first book of poetry. He has put out seven books, including his most recent From Mist To Shadow (2007). In addition he has two books of nonfiction.

However, in Flowering Weeds Johnson can turn things on themselves, bring back memories of things you had thought long forgotten, even though they are not about you.

That’s Johnson’s unique talent. The poems might be about him, a 16 year-old, weather

and other subjects, yet you will find yourself associating with these simple gems.

In “At The Pond” for example, Johnson writes “Most calming/of all/is the sound/you don’t hear/when you watch a duck/paddling toward you.” It’s so true, yet have you ever thought it about? Can you see it now? That’s the magic of Robert K. Johnson.

---Zvi Sesling

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Poems, Revised 54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions Robert Hartwell Fiske & Laura Cherry

Poems, Revised 54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions Edited by Robert Hartwell Fiske & Laura Cherry Marion Street Press, Inc. Oak Park, Illinois ISBN 978-1-933338-25-5 2008$18.95

if I were a poetry teacher this book would be required reading.“Poem, Revised” is like a self help book chock full of interesting discussions about revision; each author lends their process-up for examination by the reader. “in order to get back into the poem, I started by annotating it,as if it weren’t my poem at all, writing notes in the margins to clarify what I thought “the poet" meant, or wanted to mean."

Annie Finch “Revelry” relates her experience, trying to find the perfect poem for a specific situation, how she comes to write it, revise it, the poem. “and it had to be short enough to fit in the space around the perimeter of the ceiling…” she sets in motion, “the first drafts, most of them crossed out, scrawled on the back of a fluorescent orange Sit wells poetry slam flyer.”

Anne Harding Woodworth “Quiet Air” first two verses from the first draft: “come home, wind the old man cried,aware of its absence when only the sun shone and insects circled loudly in s-sounds against the window glass, and looking into the house through the screen door he saw swing the pendulum in the front hall” and from the final draft: “come back, wind, the old man cries hearing everything he’s not heardsince the last windless day when he lurched naked into the pine forest in searchof the missing Boreas he loved,protective tumult that curled inside his walls, into his pockets, his ears.”

Gary J. Whitehead “monument” his concise realizations about trisyllabic, quatrain and caesuras, within the simplicity of his poem “Pink granite moment-what we went to,my dog, my God and me” Whitehead takes us on his revision journey in similar ways as a Matisse painting, no one would suspect all the work which enters the cathedral of simplicity, the deleting, erasing, choices made by the poet.

Phebus Etienne “Meditation on my name” wrote about her name, “I did not want to include my name in any stanza, but I did want to provide many details about its origins.” she asked questions about the poem, “what was the origin of the name, is the person who carries the name in any way a reflection of that name?”

Rosma Haidri “Lottery” “by draft 4, I have begun to grasp the poem.” Rosma initially refers to William Wordsworth and his image of his spontaneous flow of poetry, but she comes to understand the word spontaneous might possible mean, “in the essay, I want to explore how through the hard work of revision over a long time, I was able to recollect the ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings that were central to my poem, ‘lottery’.

Poem, Revised, is a great gift to and for writers. the reader will use it as reference and support to their own way of writing. it is the book about the possibilities of revision, about how a poem transitions from one form to another, about the art of detaching from the poem so that the poem may take on its own life.

Irene Koronas/ Ibbetson Update/ Dec. 2008/ Somerville, Mass.

Monday, December 01, 2008

An Apron Full Of Beans by Sam Cornish

An Apron Full Of Beans
New and Selected Poems

by Sam Cornish
CavanKerry Press Ltd., Softbound, $16, Copyright © 2008 by Sam Cornish
ISBN-13 978-1-933880-09-9

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Sam Cornish is a unique, powerful and singular voice. He is an African-American who writes about his people past, present, fictional and celluloid. He is at times an angry writer, but not an angry person, in fact, in person, is almost shy.

Cornish’s America is not at all pretty or complimentary. On the contrary, he gets to the grit of slavery, segregation and how blacks were portrayed in the cinema.

There is, for example, the three line poem Runaway Song that sums up a slave’s thoughts:
bird in the air
eyes above the tree
Negro goes north

And the longer Harriet Brings Runaways North which ends:
Journeying North
Walk them easy
Don’t Leave them Behind

In Cornish’s book you will meet Harriet (Tubman), murdered teen Emmett Till, movie star Dorothy Dandridge, great singers Ruth Brown and Billie Holiday, writers Zora Neal Hurston, Langston Hughes, and fictional characters like Nat Turner just to name a few. You will meet white men who kill blacks for no reason, or for some perceived white reason.

Most of all you will meet powerful, compelling poetry that does not preach, but delivers a powerful message about who we were, who we are and what “they” think of “us.”

There are so many great poems packed into 173 pages of An April Full Of Beans it is truly difficult to have a favorite poem, but if I have to pick one it is not about slavery, hate, love, the movies or fictional characters. It is about Cornish’s grandmother:

When My Grandmother Died


a black

An Apron Full Of Beans is one great book poetry. Sam Cornish, who is the City of Boston’s First Poet Laureate shows why he was selected and what an outstanding poet he is. This book is highly recommended and deserving of widespread recognition and reading.

--Zvi A. Sesling * Zvi A. Sesling is the founder of The Muddy River Review and a regular reviewer for "The Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish: The Interview

Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish: The Interview

By Doug Holder

When I lived in Brighton ( a section of Boston) in the 1980’s I used to see poet Sam Cornish walking down Commonwealth Avenue. With his thick glasses , powerful stride, and intense stare, I thought to myself this cat means business. I never approached him, but I knew of his reputation as part of the “Boston Underground” school of poets, and knew he taught at Emerson College. It wasn’t until he was appointed to the position of Boston Poet Laureate did I actually meet him, and now our paths have crossed more than a few times. Cornish, 73, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and for a long time commuted between his native city and Boston. He was a poor kid, raised by his mother and grandmother after his father died. He was influenced by the small press movement in poetry, as well as the Black Arts Movement, but basically he has been viewed as poet who is hard to classify. His poetry deals with slavery, civil rights, as well as pop culture: from Louie Armstrong to Frank Sinatra. His poetry is usually stripped down and potent. Cornish’s breakthrough book of poetry was “Generations” published in 1971. The book is organized into five sections: Generations, Slaves, Family, Malcolm, and others. He combined his own family with figures from African-American history. Cornish received a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1967 and 1969, he was the literature director at the Mass. Council of the Arts, and owned a bookstore in Brookline, Mass for a number of years.He has a number of poetry collections under his belt, the most recent: “An Apron Full of Beans” (CavanKerry). I talked with Cornish on my Somerville Cable Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”

Doug Holder: Sam, you told me that you did not consider yourself to be part of the Black Arts Movement in the 60's and 70's. Yet I have read in a few places that people consider you an "unappreciated" figure of the movement. How would you define yourself?

Sam Cornish: What might distinguish me from poets of this generation in the movement, folks like: Sonia Sanchez, Niki Giovanni, etc... , was that I was influenced by a number of writers and sources that may not have been part of the influence and education in the Black Arts Movement. Some of the poets in the movement came from a conventional negro background. The negro middle class: doctors, lawyers, teachers. I came from a poor family, raised by my mother and grandmother. My mother was forced to go on welfare when she could no longer work. I went to a neighborhood school and frequented the public library.

I bought books and as a result became interested in poetry. The poets that moved me were T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, prose writers like James T. Farrell and Richard Wright. As an adolescent I loved Farrell's character , Studs Lonegian. I could identify with him and I was motivated to find other books that I could identify with. I read books by George Simeon, the great French writer of psychological murder mysteries, for instance.

DH: Who published many of the writers of the Black Arts Movement?

SC: The Broadside Press. It was a small press that was based in Chicago. It was started by a man named Dudley Randall. They were publishing young black writers who were very militant and defined themselves as being "Black" rather than "Negro." There was a very strong political stance to them.

DH: Didn't you have a strong political slant to your work?

SC: If I did it was politics that grew out of the 1930's. That was a mixture of left-leaning,the communist and the socialist.

DH: This was in contrast to the militancy of the 60's?

SC: Yes. Because a lot of that was directed at whites generally. It was confrontational or abrasive. You were now BLACK and different from previous generations. You had no patience with your forefathers, your parents, those who were living as NEGROS. It was a very angry and self-destructive ideology. People like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Robert Hayden were viewed as not being pro black.

DH: Your poetry seems to be stripped down rather than weighted with ornate flourishes.

SC: For me it is a choice of language. How do you describe something? How do you create a poem? How do you communicate? I would say that it is the influence of the hard world or the naturalistic writer, where you use the language that's employed in common speech. At the same time you recognize the lyric possibilities in this language.

I have had my days when I had tons of words on the page. I realized though that it was necessary to use fewer words.

DH: You told me that a poet should reveal something about himself in a poem?

SC: I'm back and forth about that. There are poems where you can't find the poet. There are novels where you can't find the writer. I just feel very strongly that it is important to present yourself as honestly as you possibly can. Hold yourself up as a mirror people can see their selves and vice a versa.

Poetry does provide an opportunity for people to hide themselves behind the language. They use the poem as a form of escape. And that's OK as a form of entertainment.

DH: You have talked about the photographer Walker Evans, who used to hide a camera under his coat, and snapped pictures of people that truly captured the moment, on the New York subway for instance. Should a poet be Walker Evans-like?

SC: For me perhaps. But maybe not for others. I like the idea of interacting with people--different kinds of people.

DH: So you must have been an admirer of the late Studs Terkel?

SC: Very much so. He transcended the genre.

DH: Your breakthrough poetry collection was "Generations" published in 1971. How was it a breakthrough?

SC: It might have been a breakthrough because the number of black writers being published at that time were few.The Beacon Press of Boston published it. As a black writer there may have been anger in the book. It was not an anger directed at White America. It attempted to describe living in an America that is black and white, and all the other things that go with it. The book is arranged like most of my books are: from past to present. It begins with a slave funeral and it ends with a sense of Apocalypse. The history comes from things I heard from home, and things I picked up from the neighborhoods, not to mention popular culture.

DH: We have discussed Alfred Kazin's memoir "A Walker in the City." Kazin was inspired by pounding the pavement on the teeming streets of NYC. How about you in Boston?

SC: I used to walk with a pocket camera, and took pictures as I walked. I would also walk with a notebook. I would describe things I would see, and imagined them as little scenarios. That was an important part of my day.

DH: I get the impression that you are the consummate urban man. Could you survive in the country?

SC: If I did live in the country I would like the freedom to move back and forth. I like to be near theatres, bookstores and cinemas.

DH: You had your own small press: the Bean Bag Press. You hung with small press legends like Hugh Fox, and co- edited the anthology: "The Living Underground: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry" ( Ghost Dance Press: 1969) with him. What is vital about the small press in the literary milieu?

SC: Publication. The major presses publish very few books of poetry. They also have a fixed standard as to what they select. So you often get the same voices. The small press allows us to have a variety of voices. It allows us to be challenged, upset, disturbed and sometimes angered by what we read. The major press' books are pleasant and fun to read. But they are not disturbing. They are basically not truthful. The small press has novelty, surprise, can be violent, and sometimes it can be damn good poetry.

DH: What are your goals in your position of Boston Poet Laureate?

SC: Right now I am available for people through the library and also through Mayor Menino's office. If people call and request my presence at a school or senior citizen's center, or where people would like a poet, I go. I try to be the person to bring a poem to people who might not read poetry, or those who want to talk to a poet about the craft.

Doug Holder/ Nov. 2008/Somerville, Mass./Ibbetson Update

The South Was Waiting in Baltimore

Ruth Brown

sang bad songs about her brown body but I

could see white boys hit the nigger streets

saw them running through the projects looking

for colored girls

the Fifties were marching

integrating schools

young Richard Nixon

barbers standing

in the doors of their

shops saying



at the sight

of my hair

Negro men

scratched their heads burned

their hair

to make it


like Nat

King Cole

Emmett Till died

in Mississippi his


in JET


his death a word on the streets I never

went to Mississippi

during the bus boycotts

nor sat in

for civil rights

and hamburgers

I was poor even

then my shoes were holes

held together

by threats & good luck but I read Camus

& listened to Martin

Luther King

the Muslims

in the temple


bean pie

& promising the death

of white devils

the white


that never came

in my room

the students

fucked I read

about Algeria &

found James Baldwin


some of my friends

made jokes

about Mississippi

I never rode

The Freedom Bus

but I

walked the streets

of Baltimore

visited Little Italy

the Polish


near the waterfronts

you did not

have to travel

to the Southern


it was waiting

in Baltimore

-- Sam Cornish

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New poetry collection from Somerville poet and writer CD Collins: Self Portrait With Severed Head...

New poetry collection from Somerville poet and writer CD Collins: Self Portrait With Severed Head...

"The Stephen Vincent Benet of her Commonwealth" David Godine, Publisher

"Vastly Original, Fresh, Potent and Charged" Pam Bernard, Poet

For more information go to Ibbetson Street Press onlinebookstore:

Monday, November 24, 2008

MEN IN SUITS by Alan Catlin

(Alan Catlin)

Alan Catlin
Madmanink Press
ISBN 0-943755-77-X

“little pink house” and the poem “two rooms” in fact every poem in this collection creates a pause, questions the reader. “do I want to live in this uncaring world?” it might be better for me to use one of those graphic nooses on each page to hang my review.

the writing in Men in Suits, is tight, thoughtful and well crafted.
it is the subject matter, the constant battering:

oppenheimer’s garden

“like oppies’s yard decimated, all
life removed, ruined by what fission
has wrought, what science has
inflicted upon the unnaturally
tinted skies and by what he is
bringing back, laying waste”

because the writing is so good I was able to read the entire collection
of insightful gloomy poems:

“skins removed releasing precious fluids,
juices seeping through the flaws;
the tender and the unripe, what is
real and what is not, equally stained”

the poems are reminiscent of Gothic images, Brueghel and Bosch. this
is one hell of a book. Catlin opens that bottle on the cover, that
comes ashore. its message is dire yet after reading these small poems
I am left with resolve. I’ll never date a man who wears a suit

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poet Jason Tandon: From High School English Teacher to Charles Simic and The Paris Review.

Poet Jason Tandon: From High School English Teacher to Charles Simic and The Paris Review.

Jason Tandon was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1975. He is the author of Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt, and the winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award from Black Lawrence Press. He is also the author of two chapbooks, Rumble Strip (also from sunnyoutside) and Flight, both of which were nominated for the 2008 Massachusetts Book Award. His poems were twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2007 and have appeared in many journals, including New York Quarterly, Notre Dame Review, Columbia Poetry Review, The Laurel Review, Poetry International, Poet Lore, and Fugue. Tandon holds a BA and MA in English from Middlebury College and an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. His recently released the poetry collection: “Wee Hour Martyrdom” (sunnyoutside). I spoke with Tandon on my Somerville Community Access TV show: “ Poet to Poet Writer to Writer”

Doug Holder: You studied with Charles Simic, the former U.S. Poet Laureate at the University of New Hampshire. Describe that experience?

Jason Tandon: Simic was a wealth of information. He’s been around forever. He’s met everyone, every contemporary American poet that you can think of. One thing that he always stressed about the lyrical poem was economy. He wanted you to write something that could be read forty or fifty times, and have it still give you something back each time you read it.

I was very, very excited to work with him, naturally. He was “the poet,” if I could have chosen a poet, to have worked with. He certainly delivered. He was very forthcoming with his time. He is such a global figure in poetry. I was worried that he wouldn’t be approachable or reachable. But his office was always open. He responded to emails very quickly. He had a very distinct style of leading a workshop. He was very critical and very forthcoming—he didn’t hold back. He told me what he liked and what he didn’t like. I really appreciated it.

DH: Was he brutal?

JT: He was brutal for all intents and purposes. But I thought it was great. It balanced well with the other professor there who took a very different approach.

I love Simic’s poetry… I love his style, so for me it worked out very well. I love his economy and compression.

DH: In your poem from your recent collection: “ The Room of Absence,” dedicated to Simic, absence speaks very loudly. Why?

JT: The funny thing is I was reading an interview with Simic from the 70’s. He was talking about absence in his poetry. It was a very complicated passage. He was trying to explain how he felt present in the poem but at the same time absent. I really didn’t understand what he was talking about. So I brought it to him in his office and asked him to explain it to me. He reread it and said, “What the bleep does that mean?” He playfully just cast this passage aside. So this was something he talked about in an interview and he had no idea what it meant. “The Room of Absence” was a phrase he used and the rest I suppose is poetry history. I am not sure what the poem means, but they were a series of images that were kicking around in me.

DH: You have published with “sunnyoutside” a small press headed by Dave McNamara, that was once located in Somerville, but now is located in Buffalo, NY. How did you hook up?

JT: I knew one of Dave’s writers at the University of New Hampshire, Nate Graziano. He is a fiction writer and a poet who publishes with sunnyoutside. I gave Nate a few of my poems. He seemed to like them. When I got my first chapbook manuscript together, I was thinking of how to get it published. I was thinking of sunnyoutside. I wrote them a big, long query letter. I told Dave McNamara what I liked about his authors and how my work might fit in. He told me at the time that he was booked up (which is the case with most publishers), and told me to give him a query back in six months. I wrote down the date and sent him the manuscript. Three months later he said he would do it. I started with a chapbook “Rumble Strip,” later my collection “Wee Hour Martyrdom” came out. I couldn’t be happier with the work David does. He is a great editor too.

DH: You had a stint at “The Paris Review” right?

JT: As soon as Charles Simic became editor, (which was in the summer of 2005), he called me up and asked me if I wanted to be an intern reading through the slush pile. We had a little office in the basement of the English Dept. I read through literally thousands of submissions per issue.

DH: Out of those thousands of poems how many were selected?

JT: Maybe 10 to 15 poems…total. But I submit to journals so I know what it is like to be on the other side. And of course I was reading for The Paris Review that has a significant history and standards. Of course it was not the New York office of The Paris Review. It wasn’t glamorous. The office had a desk, chair, a computer, and a phone that didn’t work.

DH: You grew up in Hartford; Conn. Has that city influenced your work at all?

JT: Actually most of what’s in “Wee Hour…” comes from my time living in Malden and Medford. “Rumble Strip,” was taken from living in rural areas like Vermont. Still, I am very influenced by place and people. I don’t know that Hartford influenced me.

DH: You have a minimalist style. Are you of the school of thought that less says more?

JT: Yes. Absolutely. If you have a phrase or image—if you have a few lines that just open up a variety of doors for the reader, you are doing a good thing. I want people to come in contact with my work with their own ideas. I like this better than narrative…I am trying to trigger the imagination of the reader. If you do too much you overdo it.

DH: You presently teach at Boston University. How does that fit with your writing?

JT: I have always enjoyed teaching. I taught before I really decided to write. I taught junior high right after college. I went back to get my MFA. I teach Contemporary American Poetry so I am constantly thinking about and discussing American poets. The students are great.

Breakfast in My Twenties

I'd brew coffee from a can of TV blend,
pull my radio from the wall as far
as it could go, and tune in blues or strings
with luck, that luminous refrain and echo.
Crawl onto my roof, light a smoke and sit
for five or ten to watch a violet cannon or
a carpet gray unroll, while Baba prepared
for the lunch rush in his deli below.
Grilled tahini chicken, falafel and kebob,
I'd bury my nose in my clothes—
O smoke that poured from the vent!
My lungs breathed blood, raw, fresh, my teeth gleamed white.
I could've run five miles each day,
but there was too much to do and see at night.

--Jason Tandon